First off, let me begin this post by saying how happy I am to be back on dry land. No matter how much fun I had with my extended family and parents celebrating their 50th anniversary nothing compares to the feeling of being back at home knowing that your wheelchair arrived in one piece. Those that have traveled on airplanes will no what I'm saying - especially once I show pictures of how my wheelchair arrived in Seattle. But let me start from the beginning.
After months of planning my mother had finally settled on taking the seven of us (brother and sister-in-law family included) to Alaska for their 50th anniversary. Congratulations again to mom and dad. I can only hope to have the kind of relationship you guys have - one of faith and commitment - that has lasted this long. In the beginning, we debated on taking my new wheelchair, concerned that it would get damaged in transport. You see I've traveled by plane several times before and have seen how they tried to carry my other wheelchair to the conveyor belt. Yes, they've actually done that. So you can imagine our concern about damaging the head control. But still, I was determined to be somewhat independent during this trip. So my dad took every precaution- learning how to dismantle the head control and joystick before handing it over to the airlines to board. He even attached a box with the parts on the wheelchair so they wouldn't get lost in transport on our way to Seattle. Despite our preparations, this is how the wheelchair arrived.
Don't get me wrong, everything turned out wonderful and we were able to fix it when we arrived in Seattle where we were to board the next day; I'm just letting giving people a realistic view of what can and often does happen to wheelchairs at the airport. The airline we used were very patient and apologetic as they stood watching my brother and dad put it back together again. It's just that people using wheelchairs should be ready for anything after traveling by airplane. Once we collected our luggage from baggage claim, we were about to head to the hotel for the night when we were met by a Princess representative. We explained we were supposed to get a transport from the airport to the dock to go aboard ship tomorrow; she took our information and made the transportation even easier for us arranging transportation from the airport to our hotel that day as well as arranging transport from the hotel to the dock the very next day- eliminating one less trip for our numerous bags.
Onboard, mom had reserved two suites for us - one accessible one for us and one regular for my brother and sister-in-law as well as my nieces. They both were pretty much identical except for the amount of closet space (I assume the lack of closet room in the other suite was used to accommodate and make extra room in our suite. Sorry guys!) and the accessible bathroom Otherwise, we both had a balcony. I was surprised by this because I would've thought they would be afraid of possible accidents. But no, there was a little ramp inside the door that came out every time the balcony door was open. Granted I made sure that my parents watched me every time I went over it just in case (see the pictures below)
Although the suites were accessible, I still had a lot of difficulties getting around the ship. This is for two major reasons.
- The hallways
- The elevators
In most cases, the hallways are narrow to the suites not leaving much space for a wheelchair let alone other people to walk by. In terms of the elevators, I have two complaints. First, it is difficult to get on one. Now I realize that this is probably because Princess cruises are larger and have room for more passengers, but that still doesn't account for the quickly closing doors. After all, elevators are primarily for those who are unable to walk up and down stairs. Right? I was fortunate to have someone with me at all times to make sure my chair did not get caught in the doors. But there were some very close calls at times.
Despite the difficulties, I had a marvelous time going around the ship and out to the ports. The first evening everyone and I went to go see a musical production called "Magic To Do" in the Princess Theater. Exclusively for Princess cruises, this musical featured a compilation of songs from Stephen Schwartz. Some of these included Pippin, Godspell and many more. We also made quick friends with Ashley, Monica, George, and Joe. Their family and ours developed a deep connection when they realized I also had CP like their daughter, Ashley. (If that weren't enough for coincidences, they too had purchased a wheelchair controlled by a head- array.) Since Ashley is only 15, they were happy to see the possibilities ahead for their daughter...
On our first day at sea, the family met for breakfast as my nieces geared up for their time in their age-appropriate activities. Since they weren't allowed around the ship on their own, Elizabeth and Rebecca and I ventured out to get ice cream on our own several times. This was really exciting for me since it allowed me to practice my driving and see how helpful my nieces might be in the future. Elizabeth and Rebekah are really growing up right before my eyes.
On our first port of call (Juneau, Alaska) we disembarked with hopes of taking the tramway overlooking the mountains. But that was not meant to be as passengers who booked the excursion were stuck on the mountain do to the tram not working and they were unable to find a way down until hours later.. Fortunately, Monica and Joe were able to enjoy the view before it broke down; unfortunately,, though, we had to stand in line and wait for a refund. Even so, we made the best out of a situation by meeting and talking to a real Alaskan born Indian from a tribe (I believe it was he was one of the only Alaskan Cliniko Indians in Alaska). I also got my very first Alaskan souvenir from the trip.
On Tuesday we arrived in Skagway Alaska (our second port of call), where we prepared to board the White Pass and Yukon Railway. This is a four- hour train ride into the mountains via the White Pass. While Ashley and I enjoyed the view from the car, our parents were free to watch from the open platform between the two cars. Locally, I was able to raise myself up to look out through the windows and see more of the views. At the top of the mountains, we briefly passed through Canada (we didn't need our passports though) and later always down. See some of the pictures below.
Wednesday was relaxing day on board as we moved through Glacier Bay National Park. Park Rangers climbed aboard in the early morning hours to answer any questions the passengers may have had; I even got my picture taken with one of them. Below is a picture of my family and I took at the Margerie Glacier.
We embarked on our third port of call on Thursday in Ketchikan Alaska. While my nieces were interested in seeing if there were any seals in the river, I found myself occupied shopping. It was in Ketchikan where I found my final souvenir for Alaska a purple necklace which I paid for myself. When we boarded the Ruby Princess cruise ship once more, we found a surprise at our door- an exclusive invitation for all seven of us to dine at the Share restaurant- an exclusive restaurant of six-course creations by a famous cook.
Friday was my parents 50th anniversary as well as our final day at sea. We spent the morning drinking coffee on our balcony while trying to see if we could spot any whales at the same time. Our friend, Monica brought over some wine she brought from California to celebrate and we had a girls time. For once, I actually enjoyed the sweet wine (which I later found out was Stella Rose.).
Since my brother and sister-in-law were out on excursions with Elizabeth and Rebekah, we celebrated my parent's anniversary just the three of us in our usual dining room. It was neat because the waiters actually sang happy anniversary (song sang to the tune of "Happy Birthday") and videotaped the whole thing. Later we disembarked with Ashley's family and explored Victoria, British Columbia, Canada together. All in all, it was an amazing cruise with wonderful weather and amazing memories--full of amazing memories and brand-new friendships. Someone told us that this was the best weather they've had out of the 21 cruises. Most of the passengers were unable to view the glaciers because of the fog or rainy weather, but we had a wonderful clear view.